Learning to Discipline My Child


This is the newest game that Bean and Chris have started playing. Every night while we’re making dinner, Chris and Bean back up to different sides of the kitchen and then run straight towards each other and right at the last minute before they collide, Chris jumps over Bean. Then they both fall down laughing. Apparently, it’s the greatest thrill in life. Right there in our kitchen.

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Looking at this picture, you’d probably never guess that about 2 seconds after it was taken Bean had a complete and total meltdown right there on the kitchen floor because I told him he couldn’t have a cookie since we were about to sit down to dinner.

Episodes like this are becoming more and more frequent in our little household and, quite frankly, they are so annoying! Bean seems to have a perpetual case of PMS. He can go from happy and excited to devastated and unhinged in about 2.5 seconds flat. And usually, the devastated and unhinged part involves rolling around on the floor, wailing. But then, in about 2.5 seconds flat again, he’s back up and happy and into something new.

At first, I was thinking these were directly related to him being tired. But then it started happening during times when he was, clearly, not tired. Like, in the middle of a perfectly sunny, happy, family, fun-filled afternoon. Or, in the middle of the grocery store at 10:00 in the morning. At those times, it was hard to blame it on anything else. It just confirmed our worst nightmares.

(cue the Jaws theme song)

We were entering the dreaded Terrible Two’s.

(cue a blood curdling scream)

In the past couple weeks, it has become obvious and distinct. These are terrible two temper tantrums. How do I know this? Because even though they appear to be irrational and illogical in nature, I’m actually starting to notice a pattern to these little fits and can even see what the triggers are for Bean. Almost every one of his temper tantrums is prompted by one of two things. Either he can’t do something he wants to do or he gets in trouble.

Bean hates to stop doing something when he’s having fun. But sometimes it happens. For example, throwing golf balls at the dogs. It just can’t happen. It’s fun for no one except Bean, who happens to think this is the MOST fun. But when we ask him to stop and he doesn’t, we then have to take his golf balls away. And the temper tantrum commences. He flings himself on the floor and begins dramatically crying. When this happens, Chris and I simply step over and/or around him and go on with our business. When he’s flung himself out and rolled to the far regions of our house and has finally somewhat composed himself, we start playing with him again and life goes on.

The second thing that prompts the temper tantrums is harder to deal with. In a nutshell, Bean hates to get in trouble. Hates it. He can’t stand when Chris or I are mad at him. It gets him all bent out of shape. So, when we take something away from him or correct a behavior, what starts as a simple, “No, Bean,” quickly becomes an Oscar-worthy meltdown. Most of the time, he’s not even in trouble. It’s just a little correction or reminder of the rules. But to Bean, we might as well have told him that we don’t love him anymore and that Santa isn’t real. In these times, we try not to go too hard on Bean.

But the hardest part about Bean’s temper tantrums is the newest part of them. In the past two or three weeks, they have started to involve hitting, kicking, and throwing. Bean gets so angry and frustrated that he throws whatever it is that he has in his hand. So, we make him to right over and pick it up because “we do not throw.” But the minute we make him go pick whatever he threw up, he starts swinging at us. Which results in a time out, where he sits and kicks his feet at anyone as they walk by.

Describing that behavior is really embarrassing, actually. It sounds like I’m raising a hell child and I hope as you read this you don’t get some horrible image of Bean. I’m a big believer that temper tantrums are not the personality of the child. I really think they are caused by something, the result of something, a response to something. Bean’s acting out is an inability to communicate some emotion or thought. So, while I understand what he’s going through, I don’t excuse that behavior. The goal then becomes teaching and disciplining without driving him further down the path of frustration.

IT’S SO FREAKING HARD!!!

So far, the best we’ve come up with is the walk away and the return. It goes like this: When Bean starts hitting and/or kicking, Chris or I get right down to his level, right up to his face, and we firmly say, “We do NOT hit, Michael.” And then, we walk away if he’s already in time out or we put him in time out if he isn’t already there. Without fail, this causes an epic breakdown for Bean. As much as I don’t like that behavior, I really, really don’t like the epic meltdown. It breaks my heart to hear Bean cry like that because there’s heartbreak in his little cry when he’s gotten in trouble.

When Bean calms down a little bit and we can actually speak to him, we do the return part. We go back over to him, give him a hug, and let him cry on our shoulders for a bit. And then we say to him again that hitting or kicking it not allowed and we ask him to say he’s sorry. When he does, we hug him, tell him he’s a big boy and that we love him, and then we go find something fun to do.

It’s times like these in parenting when I feel really unsure of myself. Sure, I occasionally read parenting books and articles. And I read other parent’s blogs. And, naturally, I rely on what I learn from my own childhood and my own parents. But none of those things prepare you for being the one in the driver’s seat when it comes to disciplining your own child. They might give you ideas and methods and styles that you can use. But when you’re staring at the fruit of your womb acting like a little turd which is immediately followed 3 seconds later by him feeling unloved by his own parents, well, quite frankly, you just want to throw parenting books at those helpful people because they aren’t the ones who have to make judgment calls right there in your kitchen.

So far, the best Chris and I have figured out how to do is stay united. We don’t do the good parent/bad parent thing. Whoever begins a specific discipline moment, ends it. Like tonight when Bean was throwing golf balls at the dogs and I took the golf ball away, Bean went crying to Chris who sent him right back to me. And the only other thing we’ve figured out and feel confident in is that our #1 job is to let Bean know that we love him, whether he’s right or wrong, whether we’re laughing or crying, whether we’re playing or sitting in time out. Punishment in our house will always come from a place of love. Other than those two things, I’m learning that discipline in parenting is, like most other aspects of parenting, trial and error.

When I was growing up, my parents seemed like old pros. Professional Parents. They just seemed to naturally have all the right answers and know how to handle every situation my sister and I threw at them. But what I’m learning is that more than likely, they stood in our kitchen handing out the discipline and punishments, and then went into their bedroom, shut the door, and said to each other, “We did the right thing, right???”

Because that’s what parenting is, I’m learning. It’s doing the best you can and keeping your child’s well being at the center of every decision you make.

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27 Thoughts to “Learning to Discipline My Child”

  1. I can’t tell you how much everything in this post rings true, and I’m sure I won’t be the only one. My second thought reading this was, ‘I’m glad it’s not just my kid’. Not that I care to wish this behaviour on anyone, but I was really starting to think that I was accidentally raising a little demon. Though I don’t think any less of you guys, I do understand how it really can be embarrassing to tell the truth about your own child, or to have someone witness it. If you can put up your hand and say ‘yep, it’s tough, but I’m doing the best I can, and we’ll be fine’… well, it’s not the hardest part done, but it’s certainly good to remember . 🙂

  2. Janet

    Sometimes being a good parent and loving your child means doing the hard things. And it’s worth it. Ever see a child who gets his way all the time? Purely miserable…children need limits. It’s just not fun being the enforcers! I say keep up the good work, and sticking together is very, very wise.

  3. Marie

    Keep doing what you’re doing Katie. It sounds like the best plan, you’re not letting him get away with things & you’re both being consistent and fair with Bean. It’s all part of the Bean Man’s growth & brain development, so once he catches on that you’re being consistent then it should get easier and he’ll know what boundaries are there. If you weren’t being consistent it’d be a lot harder because it would only confuse him. Sounds like you & Chris are doing a great job 🙂

  4. Ah! We’re going through this somewhat in our house at the moment. Nate gets so filled with embarrassment and shame when he gets in trouble that he turns around and starts self injurious behavior (SIB – that’s the autism talking). So, with our therapists’ help, Chad and I are learning to tell Nate he can’t do things (like shake the lamp really, really vigorously) in a non-judgmental way. It’s a “no” in a middle-of-the-ground tone and WOW. Is it ever hard to master! Anyhow, our therapists told us what we should do if we get a normal temper tantrum – and what you and Chris are doing is right. They suggested that, if Nate’s not doing a SIB, then we should ignore the tantrum, walk away, and engage in a fun activity by ourselves somewhere else in the room. Eventually, Nate will realize that he’s being a ding-dong and fun is happening elsewhere in the room. He’d better shape up so he can join in the fun. I hope these tantrums end in your life quickly. You deserve only good times with your baby boy!

  5. You’re right on….and it’s completely normal! One thing that worked for us: when my son would start doing his temper tantrum, we’d say “we can tell you’re really upset and look like you need some time to yourself to calm down.” We put him in his room (or another quiet room) and told him that he’s welcome to come out to join us when he has calmed down. Aftr about 30 seconds on his own, he’d come back out happy as a clam. In fact, after a while, he’d start to go into his room on his own to calm down! Doesn’t happen all the time, but it certainly has helped us get through the Terrible Twos.

  6. Courtney

    If you were alone in this then you could be embarrased. Unfortunately, you are not. My three year old still has those moments. Although, the better he gets at communicating the less we see the temper tantrums. While they get better, they haven’t ceased. Just the other day he had a doozy. He wanted to take his shoes off outside, and I told him “no take them off inside and put them in your closet”. Lord have mercy, you would’ve thought I had asked him to give all his toys away. He screamed, he cried. I ranted, I raved. He kicked, he stomped. I popped him on the rear and sent him to time out. He continued to lay on the floor sobbing. Finally after 10 minutes my ears had had enough. I took him to his room, which incidentally has no toys, because we are fortunate enough to have a playroom, and told him that he could come out when he was ready to (1) apologize and (2) stop throwing a fit. About 5 minutes later the beast emerged transformed. The truth is when I’m tired, I don’t always handle these fits too well (I get impatient) which leads to bigger, longer, more drawn out fits. My mom always says the less attention yo give them the less likely they are to continue. Just know you are not alone in this.

  7. Just to echo what everyone else has already said…ALL kids throw temper tantrums. It is a part of growing up and it had nothing to with the child’s individual personality. I think you guys are doing a great job dealing with it so far. Just rememeber that like everything else, this too shall pass.

  8. Heidi

    You are not alone! My 19 month old acts the exact same way. Kudos for being steadfast and consistent in your discipline. I also have an 11 year old that made it through this stage and no longer has tantrums! ;)Sometimes it takes awhile to get through to them since they are still so young, but once Bean realizes that the punishment is going to be the same every time he repeats an offense, he will stop. At least when he thinks you’re looking. Thus begins the new stage – sneaky behavior. I’ll leave that for another time, though! Have a great day and am sending prayers for your back.

  9. Anyone who knows or has been near a 1 1/2 – 3 year old is familiar with this behavior – it is so NOT abnormal. And I think how you’re handling it is perfect. According to what I’ve read and my pediatrician, you’re supposed to do the whole “No” sentence thing, “We do not XYZ” and then ignore them so as not to reward bad behavior with attention.

    My nephew started acting like this at 16 mths. He’ll be 3yrs old in 3 weeks and he’s just coming out of it now. Phew. It’s a loooong haul. Interesting, I read that part of the cause is that your seratonin levels are at their lowest in your ENTIRE lifetime when you’re 2 yrs old and when you’re 15 yrs old… And, really, who’s unhappier than a 15 yr old? LOL So this is like Bean being a moody teen, but the baby version. Consider it practice for when he is 15. 😉

  10. Sometimes the most loving thing you can do for a child is to make them feel like they are unloved. He’ll get over it and it sounds like you’re doing everything “right.”

  11. Even though I am awhile away from dealing with a toddler, I really admire your decision that punishment comes from a place of love, that you always end his time out with a hug and an “I love you”. Definitely going to remember that. I just wish there was some sort of manual for raising a kid 🙂

  12. Beanie's Nana

    Kate, your Dad and I had 1 million conversations just like you described. “Were we too tough? Were we tough enough? I hated doing that! Do you think we will have to pay for their counseling sessions when they grow up, or is that their responsibility once their 18?” A million questions, but always a united front between us. Its the best any parent can do.

  13. Beanie's Nana

    Kate, your Dad and I had 1 million conversations just like you described. “Were we too tough? Were we tough enough? I hated doing that! Do you think we will have to pay for their counseling sessions when they grow up, or is that their responsibility once they’re 18?” A million questions, but always a united front between us. Its the best any parent can do.

  14. brookecarrie

    We are going through the same thing at our house and it is comforting to know it is not just us. We kept worrying we did something to screw up our daughter to cause her to act like this.

  15. Leslie Sundmyhr

    Hey Katie,

    My baby is only 10 and a half months old so I’m not quite there yet but I stumbled upon this blog called Practical Parenting written by a child, adolescent and family psychotherapist. That may sound scary but I read some of the stuff and it seems like really easy to use, and practical real life solutions to parenting and parenting problems. I noticed she had a chart in her strategies in Action section that was for kids to point to, to describe what they are feeling and therefore make them feel better that they can communicate their emotions when they might not have the words for them yet. I have no idea if this is “too old” or simply unhelpful since I’m not there yet, but I thought I’d throw that out there. Plus it’s not a big book that you have to wade through.

  16. Leslie Sundmyhr

    I guess it would have been helpful to actually give you the url:
    http://practicalkatie.com/

  17. Gin

    I definitely agree with the “punishment from a place of love” thing, it really does help as kids get older, even into their teens and adulthood! I always knew no matter how mad my parents were at me, they still loved me. It sure made it easier to do things like call them and tell them things like I wrecked my car.

  18. We have been dealing with the same thing for almost a month or so now, and have been using the same discipline tactics – which remarkably didn’t come from a book, it was just a plan we came up with ourselves. Even though it’s hard, it’s always nice to know you aren’t the only one going through it because it is really easy to forget that so many parents have overcome the same obstacles which means you can too. Hang in there!

  19. Every parent wonders if they are doing the right thing when it comes to their child. I believe that’s one of the things that makes you a good parent, never thinking you have it all figured out. I know its particularly frustrating when they are doing something like hitting and kicking but then you remember that they must be pretty stressed out too. They learn so much so quickly, everyday is like finals week and they need some sort of outlet. I just blogged about this recently too.

    I haven’t been commenting lately but I’m still reading, keep up the good work! Bean is lucky to have such wonderful parents

    http://movingtotherhythm.blogspot.com/2011_01_01_archive.html

  20. Although I’m not a parent, I am a special education teacher who works with students with severe behaviors (not that Bean’s tantrums are severe, by any means!). We go through whole trainings on deescalating behaviors, and every person I’ve ever talked to has said one thing about dealing with tantrums: everyone involved (including you!) needs a chance to cool down before you can attempt to correct the behavior and find a solution. You’re doing exactly what you need to be doing in dealing with his tantrums. Also, you’re reestablishing a strong relationship and reminding him of your unconditional love after it’s all over, which is a whole stage in the deescalation strategies. You’ve got it girl…believe in yourself!!!!

  21. Great post, Katie! I have a 7 month old who is starting to show some attitude. It’s given me a small glimpse into what it’s going to be like when he hits the dreaded “terrible twos” Sounds like you’re handling it great, though! I’ll have to bookmark this and reference it in the future 😉

  22. Oh Porter is entering the horrible Terrible Two phase too. Since I am home with him six out of seven days a week now (this is week two) I have to tell him no all the time. And of course, he hates it. And I hate it too. Sometimes he gets mad and gets over it really quickly. Other times it’s like I am the meanest mommy in the whole world. It is SO hard. He doesn’t kick or punch (yet?) but he does like to laugh at me when I get stern with him. It is good that you and Chris have a shared plan of attack.

  23. I say “ditto” to just about everything that’s been said already. What stood out so much to me in your post is that you and Chris are on the same page. That’s VITAL to a healthy marriage and healthy children. I remember that so strongly growing up in my house…there was never any doubt that my parents backed each other. We were never allowed to play one parent against the next. There is something that happens deep within the subconscious of a kid who grows up in a home like that and it’s a really good thing. Hang in there…this too shall pass!

  24. What a wonderful article! You’re doing a GREAT job and keep up the good work, even when it’s tough! Sending you encouragement today for being such loving, united, and dedicated parents.

  25. I can only imagine how difficult that is! But the fact that you care enough to do it is a huge expression of love for your child. I think discipline is a very loving thing, as hard as it may be, because it shows that you care enough about Bean to mold him into a person who knows when he is doing wrong and wants to do the right thing. Way to go!

  26. Wendy S.

    I fear the Terrible Two’s are nothing but a warm-up for adolescence. Imagine that same tantrum plus the mind and vocabulary of a 16-year old…..who can drive. The best is yet to come! It makes the boundaries and expectations and limits we set now all the more important. Hang in there and keep on keeping on!

  27. Jessica

    To start, I am not a parent, so I realize I have no experience with handling this 🙂 But having a little brother, younger cousins, young nieces and nephews, and working as a summer camp counselor for a couple of years I have definitely seen it! On a more helpful note, I saw this article on CNN the other day, maybe you’ll find it helpful/reassuring http://www.cnn.com/2011/HEALTH/02/21/toddlers.temper.tantrums.parenting/index.html?iref=allsearch

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